Tag Archives: luxury

Industrialization on Essential and Luxury Calories

Before the enlightenment era and the centuries of subsequent learnings that followed, religious dogmas took for granted that people knew the fundamental facts about the world, and then built up teachings and rules to appease and satisfy those fundamentals. The scientific and industrial revolution was beyond all else, the understanding of society that there are things we don’t know – our acceptance of ignorance. As a result, these times led to drastic changes, including our understanding and socialization of food. Building on the learnings of the last 500, people developed countless inventions that impact how we eat, including novel modes of transportation, new machinery, new markets, and new ways of preserving food (Goody). This post will look at chocolate as just another product in the grand schematic of our diets. Because our diet can be separated into essential and luxury calories, we can analyze clearly how the composition of these two groups changed, and better understand chocolate, or luxury, consumption habits as a whole.

Generally, consumption of essential calories saw a continuous rise from the early 1800s to the mid 1900s, and the composition of these calories shifted away from carbohydrates and toward proteins. It is important to note that starting in the 19th century, famine was almost entirely a thing of the past as the last major food crisis occured in 1816 in much of Europe as a result of the end of the Napoleonic Wars (Grigg). From there on forward, there were no major notable famines in Europe. This security was the result of an economy that was rapidly increasing in productivity. In this time of security, there was a shift in the types of food people ate, moving from cheaper to more expensive goods. In the early 19th century, starchy staples comprised 65-75% of total calories, principally because starches like cereals and potatoes were so much cheaper than more protein rich products, and the majority of the population was poor (Grigg).

As society became wealthier and more productive from a series of industrialization related changes in the 1800s including agricultural advances for increased food production, transportation for an increased ability to exercise national comparative advantage and exports, and finally an increase in wages generally that resulted in improved buying power, the composition of the European diet changed dramatically. As demonstrated by Grigg, calories became more and more available per capita per day, increasing from around 2000 calories in the early 1800s to approximately 3000 by 1930. 

These changes were paired with a decrease in the number of calories required due to sharp decreases in physical activity due to increased automation and improved heating within everyday buildings (Grigg). Together, these changes meant that there were surpluses in the margin of peoples’ diets, and as a result, people were able to shift their eating habits to more expensive mainstay foods and were able to more easily supplement essential calories with luxury ones. As seen in the table, caloric intake was at a peak around 1910 at which point people were first able to eat, at least for the majority of the population, however much they wanted. The fall in subsequent decades relates to increased awareness of the nutritional importance of moderation, and the related shift to lower calorie, higher cost items such as luxury goods like chocolate. The shift to preferred foods, like dairy, livestock protein, fruits and vegetables, and fats and oils meant that people were spending more on fewer, but better tasting calories. As seen below, Grigg highlights the dramatic shift away from starchy staples as France and other European countries entered the 1900s.

The question still remains as to why people are spending on more expensive items? Are these items substantially more valuable and therefore raising the social welfare of Europe as a whole, or are people attracted more to the social distinction and advertising marketing that sets these items apart as privileged and distinguished? If the latter is true, our conceptualization of history as a line of human progress is dramatically undermined insofar that we normalize more expensive items that do not substantively create value, and therefore counteract the improvements in everyday wealth with valueless spending.

Beyond mainstay items and general economic trends that allowed for increased consumption, luxury items such as sugar and chocolate became dramatically more accessible through the late 1800s as a result of industrialization. Factorization and the concentration of production allowed food production to be far more efficient, simultaneously emphasizing inequality as fewer firms had control over more and more means of production. Foods began to be processed less and less on farms and by individuals as larger establishments began consolidating production with machinery and outsizing capital. Chocolate saw different trends from other products insofar that this industrial manufacturing dramatically lowered its prices and improved its taste (Clarence–Smith). Luxury goods are luxury due to their price, and also because there is something special about their taste that sets it apart, in some way warranting the large price. This distinction was set culturally, while at the same time access and price lowered dramatically due to the benefits of scale in an industrializing world that focused production more and more under large establishments. Beyond cost, various industrialization era inventions improved the digestibility problem of chocolate. As seen since chocolates earliest times as a beverage, the product is bitter when untampered, and while the taste is unique, it was not for every palette. However, around 1914, sales expanded dramatically as chocolate diversified as a product, becoming more digestible in many different forms of powders and alkalizable in order to create a significant improvement in taste. Beyond the powderization, technical breakthroughs from the Swiss allowed for milk chocolate, which greatly improved the quality of eating it directly (Clarence–Smith). In looking at the various luxury goods, or “junk foods” as referenced by Coe and Coe, the trend for chocolate was set apart from coffee and tea. Chocolate grew faster than tea and coffee between 1870 and 1897 with the establishment of a neoliberal market. According to Clarence–Smith, “world imports of cocoa beans grew ninefold between 1870 and 1897, whereas those of tea doubled, and those of coffee rose only by about half” (Clarence–Smith). Chocolate, due to surpluses in the average person’s pocketbook, had been revolutionized as a widely available good. While chocolate had been universalized, the question remains as to whether or not chocolate actually added value to everyday lives, or instead was just a cultural phenomenon that costed far more than the joy it brought.

The actual value of chocolate can be analyzed through how Latin America approached and treated chocolate differently from Europeans in this time of industrialization, and ultimately it is clear that its excitement was entirely cultural. Latin Americans resisted the widespread socialization of chocolate, especially as a beverage, on account of its barbaristic relationship to pre-civilized times in Central and South America. Despite dramatic increases in incomes, consumption of chocolate did not appreciate significantly (Clarence–Smith), showing how an increase in consumption was perhaps more cultural in Europe, and not necessarily a distinctive value add. Moreover, even in European countries, Mintz argues that chocolate’s broad consumption was primarily induced from a place of power. As luxury goods that were originally enjoyed by the rich became available to the cotidian, they were glorified in ritualistic ways, used disproportionately during holidays and celebrations as a result of their luxuries nature. This relationship was held for chocolate as well as for sugar through the industrialization era, as Clarence–Smith notes that “public bodies vigorously propagated chocolate,” including a democratization of consumption via regular issues to military personnel during the Boer War of Britain, America’s war with Spain in 1898 and generally as a foodstuff for german troops in the 1880s (Clarence–Smith). This democratization was not enjoyed from the bottom up, but much like the effects seen in Mintz during monarchic times, it still came from the top down during the late 1800s when democratic governments began to hold the majority of the power in Europe. 

Works Cited:

Clarence–Smith, William. 2016. “Chocolate Consumption from the Sixteenth Century to the Great Chocolate Boom.”

Goody, Jack. 2013[1982]. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World
Cuisine.” pp. 72-88

Grigg, David. 1995. “The Nutritional Transition in Western Europe.” pp. 247-261

Chocolate Representation and Marketing in Boston’s Italian Market, Eataly

Upon entering Boston’s Italian market, Eataly, one can immediately feel the pervading sense of luxury. Starting with quality wines, cheeses, meats, and small bites, customers begin their mini Italian journey. After passing through sections of delicious selections of appetizer-like foods, customers move through the center of the marketplace where restaurants and food stands create a complete sensory experience analogous to the main meal in a gustatory journey. Throughout the entire experience, the Italian market presents itself in a very raw and natural form, turning away from luxury in the form of material wealth and focusing the customer on what people commonly associate with Italy to be a certain luxury of life. In fact, although one could easily see how expensive all of the products were in the market, the wealth required to lead this sort of “Italian” lifestyle is hidden behind the fact that it does not present many directly obvious or glaring forms of material luxury. However, the one place where it failed with this consistency in the representation of Italian luxury was, surprisingly, in the chocolate section.

The first important aspect to note about the section of the market that sold chocolate was that it came at the very end. A customer would have to travel through the rest of the store in order to reach this final area. This works for Eataly in the sense that it is logical to structure the market in the same way that a typical meal is structured. Chocolate and desserts come at the very end, clearly serving as an indulgence to finish off a gustatory experience in a perfect way. It is one last peek into paradise.

Throughout the journey up to this point, the experience and the luxurious ambiance has stayed fairly consistent. The customer is reminded of a simple, farmer’s market style of Italian life, and the luxury is communicated through quality of life rather than quality of material ownership. This is a crucial strategy that appeals widely to consumers given the new, developing concept of luxury, as Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello describe in Luxury: a rich history

“… ‘luxury is today more a condition than an object’. In other words, luxury is not just about acquiring an object, but is rather a way of living, of thinking, and of aspiring. Luxury aims to recover its uniqueness … by providing an experience that is unique in the acquisition and enjoyment of such goods … that might not necessarily be exceptional per se,” (McNeil and Riello 235). 

However, there is a sudden shift from that environment when approaching the chocolate section. In fact, the brands and types of chocolate displayed convey two different messages to the customer, both of which distinguish themselves from the marketplace as a whole. 

The first of the two atmospheres is one of material luxury, appealing to the artisanal quality of a product. These chocolates exhibited common packaging themes of shiny gold and silver labels, dark backgrounds, and text like “premium chocolate”, “product of Italy”, or “classic”. Many included obscure and unreadable Italian words in an attempt to appeal to consumers through use of smooth, sophisticated sounding words. Additionally, on signs that describe the brands, the customer can read various quotes that generally embody this appeal to Italian artisanry:

“Since 1826, Caffarel has been making chocolate in the traditional Piemontese way.”

“Baratti & Milano is part of the history and tradition of Italian confectionery.”

“Novi’s passion for chocolate stems from the ancient confectionery traditions of Piemonte.”

An example of chocolate packaging with gold labeling.
Baratti & Milano chocolates, whose labeling and packaging uses themes of gold.

These bars and products were almost entirely pure dark chocolate products and the most commonly added ingredients (if any) were “Italian” additions like whole hazelnuts, coffee, or lemon. Price points were incredibly high, with products costing, for example, $55/lb, $44/lb, $36/lb, or $77/lb, to name a few.

An important aspect to note is that these brands that appealed to the artisanal and “pure Italian” quality of chocolates often failed to connect their story to the rest of the chocolate supply chain. As elaborated upon by McNeil and Riello: “A great deal of the national appeal of brands is created by cultural associations cemented through the clever use of advertising at a global level. Globalization, however, creates at the same time a sense of brand displacement. The ‘country of production’ of a product is often different from the ‘country of origin’ of the brand …, ” (McNeil and Riello 283). These companies are clearly seeking to appeal to a national identity in advertising their products, but consequently end up obscuring the entire supply chain and ignoring the regions and people that play a crucial role in the farming of cacao.

Unsurprisingly, these brands thus did not often cite any sort of certification or effort to integrate their chocolate production story with the rest of the supply chain. The focus was restricted to chocolate’s journey in Italy. This seems to be a characteristic that plagues smaller and more specialized chocolate producers in general: 

“In the small, specialty chocolate maker category, there is some transparent trade, but in general the information about amount of specialty cacao purchased and price paid for that cacao provided by individual companies is minimal, and the burden thus falls to producers, consumers, or researchers to seek it out for themselves, an often impossible task,” (Martin). 

The entire journey of cacao before reaching the hands of Italian chocolate manufacturers is nonexistent. This phenomenon is most often characteristic of nations that have been able to establish an international chocolate reputation. As Kristy Leissle states in Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate:

“… somewhere along the way, the place of manufacturebecame more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin of the beans. ‘Belgian chocolate’ has more purchase than ‘Ghanaian cocoa,’ because chocolate eaters have become accustomed to the particular styles preferred by a handful of national palates…,” (Leissle 22).

So, clearly, while the rest of the market exudes a raw form of lifestyle luxury, these bars communicate a very different message. They create an association with material wealth – that of an elite and distinguishing sense. 

However, this is not the only theme established in the chocolate market in Eataly. There exists another subset of chocolates that seem almost completely removed from the Italian artisanal quality of chocolate. These brands instead focus all of their energy in promoting an exotic image. The packaging is smaller, squarer, and rarely employs dark, luxurious colors. Packages are white or colorful, made with plastic or thin cardboard. They do not frequently employ gold text or luxurious images. Yet, almost all of the chocolate sold remained dark, with few products dipping below 60% dark chocolate.

These brands add various unique ingredients like Sichuan pepper, matcha, passionfruit, goji berries, ginseng, and more into their products. The choice of ingredient addition tends to go along with what is commonly associated with Western perception of health or medicine in foreign (particularly Eastern) countries. Western culture has adopted exactly these ingredients (tropical fruits, Asian spices, and more) as a part of a new, hipster health fad. The fact that these “healthy” ingredients were chosen to be added to chocolate makes it clear that these brands are trying to appeal to chocolate’s exotic, fantastical quality: that is has “magical” health benefits. Other brands on the shelves made an even more obvious appeal to this common conception of chocolate, associating specific bars with arbitrary qualities such as “health”, “beauty”, or “leisure”.

T’a Milano chocolates, with various exotic flavors added.
Giraudi chocolates with added ingredients such as matcha and goji berries.
Sabadìchocolates that are associated with qualities such as health and leisure.

This is an interesting characteristic of these brands, since they seem to advertise more strongly the idea of “quality of life/condition” as described by McNeil and Riello: “[f]ood, but also wine, spirits, and confectionery, are appreciated not just because of their price or intrinsic taste but because of their lifestyle association,” (McNeil and Riello 240). This would seem to be consistent with the ambience of the rest of the market. However, the aggressive attempt to mash together the rest of the world under the single label of “exotic” in order to distinguish their chocolate makes it difficult to see how it connects to the apparent Italian authenticity of the rest of the store or even to the regions of world that it is trying to represent. 

Maybe because of this appeal, these chocolates also have very high price points. Prices included $40/lb, $60/lb, $74/lb, and even reached $180/lb at times. Yet, we can see that none of these brands have truly succeeded in representing the world for what it is through chocolate; thus, they justify their price points through an incomplete image of the world and the consumer’s role in the supply chain. Evidently, the mixing of ingredients from various nations that are known to have an exotic appeal to western customers is a testament to the fact that these chocolate brands may be choosing to oversimplify the gastronomical complexity and value of other cultures and nations, choosing instead to group it under a single category meant to entertain western customers more than educate them. 

As an example of this, the brand “Domori” focuses very seriously on the origin of the cacao bean used to produce each bar, making that the focus of the packaging on their chocolate products. However, taking a closer look at this “origin conscious packaging” reveals a slightly different story. For example, for chocolate from Venezuela, one can see that the center of the image on the packaging is that of a sloth on a tropical tree. However, sloths have absolutely nothing to do with cacao besides the fact that are both present in Venezuelan ecosystems. 

Domori’s Venezuelan chocolate packaging.

On another packaging, the focus is on criollo cacao, with the central image being a cacao tree and a single pod broken open to reveal the inside. Yet, the cacao pod is represented poorly, with seeds looking more like dry nuts loosely packed in the pod than the real, dense, fruit covered seeds.

Domori’s criollo cacao chocolate packaging.

From all of this information, it appears that the brand appeal to the Italian craft of chocolate provides a more accurate and consistent story than the exotic brands. Although they may not present a complete representation of Italy through their chocolate products either, the other exotic brands fall more easily into traps of misrepresentation. As Leissle states, “Packaging aesthetics range from whimsical … to sober … but the primary lure is nearly always an exotic representation of chocolate’s origins,” (Leissle 25), and this is exactly what can be seen in the products presented at Eataly. 

As another example, the brand donna Elvira’s chocolate packaging includes winding and twisting tree branches, with cacao pods growing not from the trunks of these trees, but from the ends of flimsy, almost twig-like branches, which is known to be inaccurate. Cacao grows on the trunks of the tree as well as on the lower, thicker, and sturdier branches. Additionally, climbing through these branches are figures that appear to be half monkey, half human, with facial features reminding one of blackface. As Robertson says, 

“The use of black people in advertising has a long history. As Jan Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour, such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status,” (Robertson 36). 

So it is not surprising, given this information, that we find a brand that egregiously and unacceptably exploits this same advertising scheme that has been used since the times of colonialism. Moreover, 

“… images of Africa in U.S. media fall generally into one or two categories – Africa as ‘trouble,’ which includes poverty, conflict, debt, and HIV/AIDS, and Africa as ‘curiosity,’ which involved tribal people wearing colorful clothes and beads, hunting, gathering, and living close to nature,” (Leissle 26). 
From this, it is evident that the brand donna Elvira has appealed strongly to the second stereotype, depicting black people as wild, silly monkeys in a natural environment gathering cacao pods. Not only does this packaging serve as a misrepresentation of cacao farming, but of an entire race and region of the world. 

An example of donna Elvira’s chocolate packaging.
A closer look at the design shows cacao pods growing off of tropical trees and monkeys with what appears to be blackface harvesting them.

Additionally, these brands appealed to exoticism through modes of production, truly extending their attempts to distinguish themselves in every manner possible. Chocolate brands advertised modica chocolate, cold pressed chocolate, or handmade chocolate. In fact, as Leissle writes, “ … images are powerful, because they generate an escapist fantasy, inviting the shopper to experience a place more wonderful and tropical than wherever they are (probably) standing when buying the bar … Unusual, seductive words – Sambirano, Dos Rios, Esmeraldas – localize the chocolate in a mysterious place, always far distant,” (Leissle 25). 

Therefore, when one looks close enough, it is quite obvious that these brands are looking for an exotic appeal, trusting that their customers will not pay too much attention to the details (or overlooking them themselves). This basic exotic appeal avoids a truly in-depth connection between the customer and the journey of the cacao bean to the chocolate bar.  The goal is to create a fantastical world for the customer, not to represent the reality of the regions and cultures that it is taking advantage of.  

On the other hand, those brands appealing to luxury and quality fell into another trap with these exotic brands of associating quality with perfection, sustainability, and success. “Even more, it is not uncommon to encounter the dangerous idea that quality of chocolate is directly linked with quality of life of cacao producer. That a cacao sample is of superior quality does not imply that those who produced it have better lives. Flavor is insufficient evidence,” (Martin). It seems like this is the mistake that many customers of Eataly could potentially be making, thinking that quality of chocolate is directly associated with a perfect brand engagement with all aspects of the supply chain.

It is clear that the chocolate section of Eataly presents an inconsistent image with regards to the rest of the marketplace, and the various messages that it attempts to communicate obscure many aspects of the cacao supply chain. It attracts people with claims of luxury and exoticism that end up creating a false sense of “chocolate consciousness”. This is not to say that the chocolates are of poor quality. In fact, they are very likely to be delicious. However, this is to say that whether or not these brands are aware of it, they appear to still fall victim to common stereotypes and marketing strategies, overlooking the complete impact of their products on the way they represent the chocolate supply chain and their actions to consumers.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” University of California Press, vol. 13, no. 3, 2013, pp. 22–31., http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22.

Martin, Carla D. “Sizing the Craft Chocolate Market.” Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, 31 Aug. 2017, chocolateinstitute.org/blog/sizing-the-craft-chocolate-market/.

McNeil, Peter, and Giorgio Riello. Luxury: a Rich History. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2009.

C’est la vie? C’est la guerre! A Comparative Analysis of French and American Haute Chocolate

Sweat condensing on her brow, an American Pasty Chef attempted to balance a crescent moon shaped chocolate centerpiece atop a three-tier cake.  Being observed by a French chocolatier only added to the nerves that steeled into her clenched jaw and stabilized her trembling hands.  Hours of work had gone into this elaborate piece, an expense that would hopefully be passed on to the customer when they purchase this decadent, luxurious and ostentatious celebration of chocolate, craftsmanship and refinement.  It embodied various certifications, testifying to the veracity of the ethical production therein and extending its meaning from its origin, through the artisan, to the consumer.

Just as the bottom tangent of the chocolate piece began to set, aided by a can of spray-able liquid nitrogen intended to solidify the melty chocolate and fasten it into place, the weight of the moon rested at too deep an angle.  It tumbled.  Over the back of the cake, it gashed the bottom layer on its way to the stainless steel table where it shattered, breaking the silent concentration and cutting the tension in the room.  The Pastry chef sighed and began to collect the shrapnel with a towel, slowly scooping it into a pile for re-melting.

C’est la vie…” said the American Pastry Chef.

C’est la guerre.” replied the French Chocolatier.

This semi-fictional scene reflects the dichotomous nature of chocolate in haute cuisine between French and American spheres of distinction. The deft use of fine chocolate is prevalent in both attitudes, both value the origins and efforts of the cacao’s genesis, both have studied and practiced their craft.  However, whereas the American is resigned in the failed effort to express the cumulative value of the product and her skill, the French craftsman is steeled into resolve, determined to win the war. “Such is life, Such is war” is a common French expression that mirrors the approach of French and American approaches to chocolate in haute cuisine.  The American approach is one of collaborative effort, emphasizing the transparency of sourcing to demonstrate the rusticity of the product.  The French approach is one of competitive determination, steeped in refinement and luxury.

This analysis is not intended to present a normative argument.  That is, this is not an examination of which culture has a better or worse approach to haute cuisine in that one way is right or another is wrong.  Rather, these tools seek to explore how haute chocolate can reflect bifurcated levels of distinction. In the interest of flow and concision, the United States is referred to as ‘America’ wholly separate from other North and South American regions.  Additionally, the habitus of other European Nations such as the Netherlands and Austria may overlap with those of the French, however France is selected as grounds for comparison as it offers special distinction via various guilds and the tradition of the chocolatier.  This is also not intended to make over generalizations, it is understood that there are exceptions to trends and the examples herein were chosen to highlight the specific distinctions.

Haute Chocolate

While neither nation produces cacao, the raw ingredient for chocolate, their relative attitudes towards fine chocolate are molded by habitus.  Defined as a collection of culture, history and access to cultural and economic capital, Pierre Bourdieu offers habitus as the foundation of an individual’s foodways. (Bourdieu, 2005) The purpose of this comparative analysis is to explore the similarities and differences in American and French approaches to fine chocolate.  While both nations enjoy a reputation for the production of fine chocolate, they have very different attitudes and approaches to the market.  This analysis intends to contrast these attitudes, provide examples that demonstrate the distinction between distinctions, define the roles of distinction and habitus, and critically analyze how these attitudes are expressed in an effort to better understand the role of nationality and culture in the growth of the fine chocolate market.

Where an individual’s habitus lies is dependent on their perceived cultural and economic capital.  This capital functions as a social currency, lending veracity to their perceived identity, be it as a ‘foodie,’ ‘gourmand,’ ‘conscious consumer’ or other informal title, cementing an individual’s place inside or outside of distinct groups. (Power, 1999)  An individual’s food choices, in this case chocolate brands, reinforce their identity and allow them to explore other, tangential foodways with more comfort and familiarity.  The intersection of economic and cultural capital is particularly informative in an analysis of chocolate brands as each is designed for a particular market.  While the positions of brands along the axis may be of some debate, literature and marketing materials often guide it’s position by utilizing adjectives such as ‘luxury,’ ‘rustic’ or ‘bean to bar.’


For the purpose of this analysis, focus will be placed on the brands and approaches on the left side, High Cultural Capital with varying Economic Capital.  Haute culture, if not cuisine, is by definition high in cultural capital as its purpose is to push the boundaries of sensory experience and offer unique, ephemeral products.  Food choices made accordingly serve as evidence of ‘distinction,’ which “reflects the ability of dominant class factions to legitimate their tastes as superior.” (Johnston & Bauman, 2015) As illustrated, there are many brands that cluster in the top left corner, with High Economic capital.  These products are advertised as expensive and luxurious.  In this context, luxury can be defined as a product whose price exceeds the cost of raw materials, processing and labor. Fine cacao makes up only 5 -7 % of global production. (Martin & Sampeck, 2015)  Its consumption indicates a desire to separate one’s experience from the challenges of the everyday.  Within the world of chocolate, this means a simplification, or complete ignorance, of the harsh realities of cacao production.

C’est la vie…

The American approach to haute chocolate is as diverse as any other.  Foodie culture has elevated chefs to rock-star status. As such, in 2018 one is as likely to encounter an acclaimed chef or chocolate producer who looks a bit different from a traditional, clean cut chocolatier.  Tattoos, long beards and bespoke eyeglasses offer credence to the adept skill and alluring aloofness of urban chefdom.  This approachability, itself a rebellion from rigidly structured hierarchies of French brigade styled kitchens, offers the transparency that consumers demand.  Buzz words such as ‘bean to bar,’ ‘artisanal,’ and ‘chef inspired’ adorn many of commodity products.  The Mast Brothers experience is an exceptional case study of the consequences of betraying this transparency.

In late 2015, a former employee who blogs for dallasfood.org under the name Scott, posted a blog that uncovered a betrayal of transparency by the Mast Brothers, operators of a specialty chocolate company that sold ten dollar bars of chocolate at Whole Foods.  According to the author, commodity chocolate was being melted down and repackaged into luxury advertised bars.  The follow up Quartz article blew the story up and the Mast Brothers became the poster boys for forged identities in the artisanal community.  The placement of the product, in high end grocery stores, themselves suspect of duplicitous marketing, combined with a curated narrative about the ‘hipsterness’ of bar, offered little defense as the supposed transparency on offer became opaque.  The backlash was swift and harsh, eventually leading to an apology and reintroduction of the product.


Right Image: Nick Zukin Twitter @extramsg

Left image: Mast Brothers Facebook

Taza chocolate is a craft chocolate producer based in Massachusetts.  Their branding and sourcing heavily refers to Mesoamerican origins, minimal processing and Fair Trade sourcing.  The chocolate itself remains slightly grainy, an effect usually eliminated in industrial processing, testifying to the rustic nature of the product.  Taza offers a chocolate experience very different from luxury French and European Brands.  Advertised as ‘stone ground organic direct trade’ their products offer a sensorial connection to Mesoamerican chocolate history cementing the consumer’s identity as a thoughtful ‘foodie’ if not a conscious consumer. Taza compounds their commitment to transparency and rusticity with tours of their manufacturing facility, with old timey equipment and informative guides.  This producer is an example of the ‘rustic’ or unrefined American approach.


Image: Amazon.com

In any chocolate culture, Valentine’s Day is a special occasion.  Heart shaped boxes of chocolate for any price point are available for gifting.  It is no surprise that at the highest level of foodie distinction, The James Beard Foundation, would center chocolate consumption for the event.  Enter Staten Island Chef Peter Botros and his team.  Famous for his restaurant The Stone House at Clove Lakes, Chef Botros collaborated with the JBF for a themed titled ‘Dreaming in Chocolate’.  A 7 course dinner for 175$ per person, the evening featured Seared Dayboat Scallop with Chocolate-Chestnut Cream, Potato Crisps, and cocao nibs and other creative chocolate expressions. This event is one of many collaborative efforts between institutions and individuals that celebrate and market the chocolate experience.

Chocolate competitions, courses, books and best practice videos further explore the collaborative nature of American haute chocolate.  Working with certifying bodies such as USDA organics, The Rainbow Coalition and Fair Trade emphasize the transparency and minimal processing that offers a more rustic experience typify the American approach.

C’est la guerre…

French haute cuisine needs little introduction.  France it is often claimed is home to the best wine, the best cheese and the best bread.  An encounter with any Francophile will bear this out.  However, the French approach to haute chocolate bifurcates from the American approach in a number of ways.  Examples of the competitive nature, refinement and luxurious identities offered by French chocolatiers contrast with those of American producers is telling ways.

French chocolate bars and advertisements market the luxury of French chocolate through visceral imagery.  Gold script, royal velvet and dark shiny tones offer justification for the high prices of luxury bars.  An extreme example of this is the famous Jean Paul Hevin chocolate stiletto, featured in BBC production ‘Chocolate Perfection with Michel Roux Jr”.  Produced by hand, in one size and for only the right foot, this chocolate product blurs the line between food and art.  The creation is demonstrative of refined skills of the chocolatier. Its image practically screams ‘SEX’ and its lack of purpose pushes its existence into one of pure ostentation.  This product would be unthinkable using the methods and consistency of a rustic chocolate, such as Taza and pedigreed chefs rely on relationships with the most refined legacy chocolate producers in France.


Refined chocolate producer Valhrona based in Tain l’Hermitage outside of Lyon, France is one of the leading producers of gastronomic chocolate.  Their products offer elite levels of distinction with a legacy dating from 1922.  (Coe & Coe, 1996) A central player in haute chocolate, Valhrona has a robust sourcing plan, has established chocolate schools, and is based in one of the richest wine cultures in Europe.  As such, they were one of the first to offer chocolate in the cru, grand cru, and premier cru varieties, highlighting the value of the terroir expressed in their chocolate.  By using adjectives familiar to audiences with an excess of cultural and economic capital, Valhrona’s refined approach to chocolate typifies the pride and mastery of knowledge demanded by French haute chocolate.  The institutional investment in chocolatiers and their craft is shared with official national recognition.

The Mielleur Ouvrier de France, MOF, is awarded to the ‘best craftsmen of France’ and typifies the competitive nature of French haute chocolate.  Rather than compete against others, this competition invites only French chocolatiers to compete against their own skills.  Preparations take months or years, the winners are selected by former MOFs, and each competition may offer none or many awards.  The award is offered to other craft industries as well, but few are as compelling or tempting as the chocolatiers. This competitive nature, designed to weed out the unworthy, is distinct


As illustrated in the diagram above, French and American chocolate distinctions differ in a number of ways.  The central overlap, that of price, exoticity, specialty and terroir, form core values from which the cultures begin to bifurcate.  These adjectives, among others, describe shared distinctions, realms where haute chocolate is intrinsically valued, fetishized and subject to the highest levels of cultural and economic capital.  An analysis of French and American examples of haute chocolate yields different yet related levels of distinction.

These differences can be juxtaposed to fully illustrate and expose a dichotomy of distinction.  Collaborative vs competitive, rustic vs refined and transparent vs luxurious are just a few of the bifurcated approaches to chocolate and the core values that make up their relative haute culture.  The American approach is market based, placing emphasis on the quality, economic value and artisanal specialization of small ‘bean to bar’ companies who place equal importance on the genesis of the cacao as well as the locality of the producer, collaborating with certifying bodies to enhance the veracity of their claims.  The French models emphasizes a more competitive approach where the chocolatier is subject to communally agreed upon standards, exemplified in the MOF and artisan guilds.  The American ‘bean to bar’ isolates a particular geography, culture and terroir and the artisans strive to express that sense of place through minimal industrialization often to the detriment of texture, color or perceived sweetness.  Conversely, French legacy brands, such as Valhrona, often refine the raw product, blending it with other select varieties of plant and geography to create a specialized flavor, emphasizing the elite-ness, luxury and unique qualities of specialty varieties.

Critically, the transparent and luxurious approaches to haute chocolate may be the most illustrative of the distinct dichotomies.  American chocolate bars often prominently feature recognized symbols of transparency.  Affiliations with USDA Organics, Fair Trade, Free Trade the Rainforest Alliance offer cultural capital to the consumers that reflects their personal core values and communicates to themselves and others that they are concerned with the class struggles and systemic inequities inherent in the cacao trade.  Conversely, French chocolate bars rely much more heavily on images of luxury.  French chocolate production is more closely related to national legacy; one removed from the conflicted history of colonialism and offers a product with a value that exceeds the costs of raw materials and the human labor used to produce it.

Both chocolate cultures have evolved foodways that reflect cultural values inherent in wider social and economic spheres. (Meigs, 1997) The arguments of the analysis herein could very well be extrapolated and transposed onto similar products, such as bread, cheese or wine.  Chocolate holds a special place in this reflection because the raw material, cacao, is not grown in the US or in France.  Both carry with them a burdened class legacy and have had a historic hand in oppressive economic systems that relied on exploitation and enslavement.  Future research could examine how haute chocolate deals with these legacies differ between nations, however both mold the perception of the consumer based on external values already inherent in their respective cultures.


Bourdieu, Pierre.  2005.  “Taste of Luxury, Taste of Necessity.”  In The Taste Culture Reader:  Experiencing Food and Drink, edited by Carolyn Korsmeyer, pp. 72-78.  New York:  Berg

Coe & Coe, 1996. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London p259

Johnston & Bauman. 2015. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. p32 Routledge, London & New York

Martin, Carla D., and Kathryn E. Sampeck. 2015. The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. socio.hu. The Social Meaning of Food, Special Issue in English 3: 37-60

Meigs, Anna. 1997. Food as a Cultural Construction. Food and Foodways 2(1): 431-457.

Power, Elaine M. 1999. An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoretical Constructs. Journal for the Study of Food and Society 3


Chocolate Production in the GCC

Even though the Middle East is not thought of as a significant chocolate producer, in recent years there has been an increase in production.  From international companies setting up factories in the region, to the emergence of local small-scale organizations, there is an awareness of  an expanding market and demand for standard and luxury chocolate.  However, there is a lack in transparency, awareness of the supply chain, and even sourcing of the cocoa beans.  This is changing slowly in recent years with the emergence of local bean-to-bar companies that realize that there is a gap in this regional market.

The Market:  

The increase in volume of chocolate confectionary retail in the Middle East and Africa is said to be the largest world-wide, where volume has more than doubled since 2000 (+104 per cent). (Poelmans, 34) This is in part due to strong economic growth, rising incomes, and a youthful population. (37) The Arab region and Gulf, known as the GCC (Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain), in particular is known for its passion for sugary goods, with the value of this sector amounting to $10 billion, with growth of 12% annually, which is the highest in the world.  The size of the chocolate market in the region is increasing continuously, where Saudi Arabia imported 250 tons of Swiss chocolate in 2014, an increase of 8.2% from the year before.  The consumption of standard and luxury chocolate increases during “Eid” festivities especially, to exceed 14 million dollars. (“UAE and Saudi Arabia top Middle East chocolate importers”)

Image result for ctc festival chocolate

Image: Kids Chocolate Activities at CTC Festival in Qatar.

Chocolate and Socialization:

In the region, chocolate bars represent a socialization with family and friends and are favored by locals and expatriates. (El-Khazindar, 51) Many occasions have incorporated chocolate as a necessary factor, these include the Holy month of Ramadan, Eid, weddings, births, social gatherings; as the chocolate presence increases with local and international chocolate brands appearing in malls and streets all over the region in the last few decades.   In recent years, specialized chocolate festivals have taken place in several places, such as the Coffee & Chocolate International Exhibition in Riyadh, the Chocolate, Tea, and Coffee Festival in Qatar, and a Chocolate Bazaar in Dubai with a chocolate fountain and chocolate egg hunt. (Ravindranathan)

International Brands:

The Gulf region has seen a growing chocolate production in recent decades, where the international giants have engulfed the market.  For example, Mars GCC, is the undisputed leader in chocolate confectionary with a value share of 42% in 2012 in the region.  It is supported by brands such as Galaxy, Snickers, Twix, Mars, and M&M’s.  The second position was occupied by Nestle Middle East, with a retail value share of 17% as of 2012, supported by the strong position of the KitKat brand. (Sambridge, “Mars GCC opens $40 m chocolate factory in Dubai”) The first Mars GCC factory was opened in 1998 in Dubai to produce the complete range of Galaxy chocolates locally.  In 2010, a new $40 million 6,000 sq. m chocolate factory was opened. The company posted net sales of more than $450m, and claims double digit growth every year since the beginning of the decade, and with consumer demand they have a strong commitment and target for further growth.  They aim to strengthen their position as the leading chocolate manufacturer in the Middle East, and will continue to distribute products to more than 20 countries in the GCC, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, spreading from the UK to Taiwan. (Sambridge, “Mars Inc invests further $60m to expand Dubai factory”)

Middle East Map highlighting GCC member countries

Furthermore, in 2014, Mars GCC invested a further $60m to expand the Dubai factory, adding new production lines for its Snickers chocolate bars, making the total investment over $160 million.  Chocolate sales in the Middle East and North Africa were expected to reach $5.8 billion in 2016. The company opened another factory in the region, with a $210m investment, the US confectionary giant built a state-of-the-art $60 million manufacturing facility at King Abdulla Economic City, to create the popular Galaxy and Galaxy Jewels chocolate bars. (McGinley) However, Mars GCC omits important information regarding cacao sourcing, fair trade techniques and overall transparency as the case in most Mars branches.

Furthermore, companies outside of the Gulf cater to this market, such as Lebanese companies Patchi or Crystal.  They also display a lack of attention to sourcing and information on the supply chain, despite the grand scale of their production.  Patchi was founded in Beirut in 1974 and currently has factories in five Middle Eastern countries, among them the UAE and Saudi Arabia.  As of 2011, the company has annual chocolate sales in the region exceeding US $4.2 billion and is expanding to international markets. (“For the Love of Chocolate”)

Local Companies:

When it comes to local chocolate companies in the region, there is a lack of transparency and more of a focus on the luxury side, emphasizing chocolate from Belgium, Switzerland, and France.  Terroir is not a factor in this market. The connection that is most emphasized is the European production, as stated in most company profiles.  There is a general misconception that chocolate imported from these countries, no matter the source of the beans, are automatically of better quality than chocolate produced locally.  (“Ali Al-Kazemi..”)  This is the case with the chocolate producer, AlKazemi in Kuwait.  With the factory now supplying 60%-70% to coffee shops or companies in Kuwait, and the rest to other Gulf countries. New chocolates are produced daily to suit new tastes, and the company produced its packaging in house as well.  (“A Tour of Alkazemi…”) By producing high quality chocolate in the region, they are trying to challenge these misconceptions.

Image: Alkazemi Chocolate Factory – Kuwait

I spoke to one of the owners of the chocolate company in Kuwait named Silverenia.  It is known in the region for its unique shaped chocolates, local ingredients, as well as seasonal flavorings, such as cotton candy.  It’s biggest markets are within Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia; with the most in demand occasions being weddings and newborn celebrations.  The owner stated that their chocolate is imported from Belgium, Switzerland, and France; thus, he was not sure of the source of the beans, and stated it may have been African. The company uses couverture tempering method to shape their chocolate into elaborate shapes, where the designs are made in house and are updated every year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 11.10.29 PM.png

Image: Silverenia Chocolate

In addition, this is the case in Dubai, where there are an overall eighteen chocolate factories in the city, several that import from Belgium, France or Switzerland and place their own brand on the product. (El-Khazindar, 46) The domestic market was valued at $222bn in the last few years. (Duncan) One of these chocolate companies, called ChoCo’a has expanded its market beyond the region and has its products reach Russia, Japan, Australia, and Morocco; through participating in prestigious global exhibitions and fairs. (El-Khazindar, 53)

More regional companies emphasise the European connections of their chocolates. In Qatar, the chocolate producer Kaafe, established in 2011, sells “premium hand-made Belgian chocolates” with an “Arabic taste”.  It also does not name the source of its cocoa beans, but emphasizes that it boycotts companies that rely on child labor and slavery farmers. (Qatar Tribune) Another chocolate company in Bahrain, Chocolate & Co, focuses on premium chocolate, combining skillful artisans with a state-of-the art manufacturing process, to make products out of “fine Belgian chocolate” and quality ingredients from around the world. (“Our Story”) Also, most of the other chocolate producers in the region, such as a number in Saudi Arabia, focus on their story, their market, and means of production; but do not address any sourcing or ethical concerns. (Saudi Chocolate Factory, Badr Chocolate Factory, Bostani).

Emphasis on Luxury:

The luxury chocolate market has been expanding over recent decades in the region.  Studying the psychology of consumer behavior, reveals three distinct types of buyers, the convenience, value, and luxury buyer, all with different behaviors and demands.  The luxury buyer has been increasing in developing and developed economies with the idea that expensive chocolate is an affordable luxury. (El-Khazindar, 79) Dubai announced the launch of the Middle East’s most expensive chocolate. The French company Debauve & Gallais’s box is the sixth most expensive chocolate in the world (Bhoyrul).  Even brands such as Godiva and Lindt are becoming almost mass market, as consumers develop a taste for everyday glamour. In the last decade, there has been a strong segment of the market that seeks these luxury chocolates. (El-Khazindar, 46) The emphasis on luxury, local spices and ingredients on the company profiles seems to be the main information presented for these chocolate companies in the region.

Changing Awareness:

However, the awareness of the importance of sourcing of the cocoa beans, transparency, and fair trade in the whole supply chain is slowly emerging in the region.  In recent years, a bean-to-bar company has emerged in Dubai, called ‘Mirzam’.  It emphasizes sourcing single origin beans from Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and India. Mirzam uses the legacy of the region as a trade bridge between East and West in its marketing. They designed the production process to be transparent and have catered to a huge demand a gap in the market for handcrafted ‘real’ chocolate, and aim to expand across the region.  Also, in Qatar, a new chocolate company called Buono emphasizes its single origin Ecuadorian cacao beans of the purest kind for its chocolate. (Buono Website)

What is the significance of this region in needing to address ethical factors in its chocolate production and supply chain? As we have seen the region is growing in chocolate production, locally and internationally.  Big name companies are investing in factories to cater to the region, while small companies are being established as well.  The companies in the region need to factor in organic, fair trade, and direct trade for their many benefits (when established correctly).  Fair trade improves lives and protects the environment, as well ensures quality products.  It helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. By establishing Fair Trade in the region, there can be a long term direct trading, ensuring prompt payment of fair prices and wages, no child, forced, or exploited labor, safe working environments.  Also, an emphasis on the importance in traceability and transparency.  Direct trade can lead to the companies in the region to remove the middle man of Europe and to promote direct communication and price negotiation between buyer and farmer, along with systems that encourage and incentivize quality.  It is also important as it challenges the geographical indexing of our world of the global south vs. global north in the context of the chocolate industry.  The fact that the Middle East is in the middle of these two regions, it could positively affect the global south in its reforms, and eradicate many problems that face under appreciated chocolate farmers. (Alternative Trade Lecture Slides).

Image: 1,000kg Chocolate Cake on Display for Ramadan in Dubai.


The GCC’s has had a growing importance in chocolate production and as a consumer market in recent times.  With many companies within the region and outside of the region catering to its growing standard and luxury consumer market. However, the ethical concerns, emphasis on organic, fair trade, and terroir does not receive adequate attention in the region.  The main indicator of quality to these companies is the manufacturing, and importing of chocolate from Belgian, Swiss, or French sources as an indicator of luxury, despite where the beans come from.  There is an awareness that is slowly emerging and should increase once consumers are completely aware of the differences, the ethical issues that plague the cacao industry, and demand that the companies contribute more positively to farmers, in eradicating poverty, child abuse, and other labor issues.


Media Sources:

  1. Kids Chocolate Activities at the CTC Festival in Qatar.  http://ctcfestival.qa/activities.php
  2. Map of the GCC. https://www.mapsofworld.com/answers/politics/is-qatar-part-of-gcc/attachment/map-of-gcc-countries/
  3. Alkazemi Chocolate Factory in Kuwait.  https://khaleejesque.com/2012/05/blog/a-tour-of-al-kazemi-food-industries-kuwaits-own-chocolate-factory/
  4. Silverenia Chocolate. https://www.instagram.com/silverenia/
  5. “1,000kg chocolate cake on display in Dubai for Ramadan.”  06 July 2016.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/1-000kg-chocolate-cake-on-display-in-dubai-for-ramadan-598710.html


Works Cited:

Poelmans, Eline and Johan Swinnen. “A Brief Economic History of Chocolate”.  The Economics of Chocolate. Ed. Mara P. Squicciarini and Johan Swinnen. 2016: Oxford University Press.

“UAE and Saudi Arabia top Middle East chocolate importers.” 24 November 2015. Saudi Gazette.  https://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/markets/2015/11/24/UAE-and-Saudi-Arabia-top-Middle-East-chocolate-importers.html

El-Khazindar Business Research and Case Center. Entrepreneurship in the Arab world. 2016: The American University in Cairo Press.

Interview with the manager of Silverenia conducted over the phone on May 2, 2018.

Ravindranathan, Shreeja. “There’s a chocolate festival at Dubai Marina mall”.    20 April 2017.  https://fridaymagazine.ae/life-culture/there-s-a-chocolate-festival-at-dubai-marina-mall-1.2014837

Sambridge, Andy. “Mars GCC opens $40m chocolate factory in Dubai”. Arabian Business. 27 May 2010. http://www.arabianbusiness.com/mars-gcc-opens-40m-chocolate-factory-in-dubai-271385.html

Sambridge, Andy. “Mars Inc invests further $60m to expand Dubai factory”. Arabian Business. 12 December 2014.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/mars-inc-invests-further-60m-expand-dubai-factory-574804.html

McGinley, Shane. “Mars to open chocolate bar factory in Saudi Arabia”.  Arabian Business.  16 February 2012.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/mars-open-chocolate-bar-factory-in-saudi-arabia-445654.html

“Ali Al-Kazemi: Leading The Region’s Top Chocolate Factory”. 2 April 2012.  https://khaleejesque.com/2012/04/diwan/ali-al-kazemi-leading-the-regions-top-chocolate-factory/

“A Tour of AlKazemi Food Industries, Kuwait’s Own Chocolate Factory”.   3 May 2012.  https://khaleejesque.com/2012/05/blog/a-tour-of-al-kazemi-food-industries-kuwaits-own-chocolate-factory/

Duncan, Gillian. “Sweet times for Dubai chocolatier ChoCo’a”. The National. 28 March 2012. https://www.thenational.ae/business/sweet-times-for-dubai-chocolatier-choco-a-1.383043?videoId=5585868180001

“Kaafe Chocolatier Opens Showroom”. Qatar Tribune. http://archive.qatar-tribune.com/viewnews.aspx?n=7C14A632-11AE-4E39-83E8-230C1136939A&d=20150313

Chocolate & co. “The Story”. http://www.choc-and-co.com/thestory

“For the Love of Chocolate”. 30 August 2011. http://www.wipo.int/ipadvantage/en/details.jsp?id=2848

Bhoyrul, Anil. “Dubai Launches Middle East’s most expensive Chocolate”.  Arabian Business.  23 Feb 2012.  http://www.arabianbusiness.com/dubai-launches-middle-east-s-most-expensive-chocolate-446636.html

Mirzam, Chocolate Makers. https://mirzam.com/us/

Woods, Andrew. “Mirzam to Sell its Chocolate across the GCC”.  Business Chief.  26 January 2018. https://middleeast.businesschief.com/leadership/1409/Mirzam-to-sell-its-chocolate-across-the-GCC

Professor Carla D. Martin.  Lecture Slides: “Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization”. Harvard University.  04 April 2018.


What Do You See?

Chocolate seems to permeate our lives. It saturates the grocery shelves during the holiday seasons and appears on our television screens. It is a true constant in our rapidly-changing world. Because our modern world is always developing, how has chocolate maintained permanent-product status? The easy answer is: sugar. Several hundred years ago when sugar first emerged onto the European food scene, it was a new and exciting ingredient from Mesoamerica that served many uses. It began as an expensive superfluous supplement to the natural European diet, but after two centuries, sugar had become a staple to the English diet and essential to the rest of Europe (Prof. Martin Lecture). This kind of integration was not isolated to sugar. Chocolate made the journey from a fancy, elite delicacy to a common household item… or so it seems. As this article of fun facts reveals, Modern day “Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person” which is much more than the average for Europeans. I argue that although statistics show that the common person consumes great amounts of chocolate, it still retains its original status as a highbrow item despite its price. This is best showcased by the chocolate sections at CVS.

There are a couple of different places to find chocolate at CVS, each with their own chief marketing purpose. The first is in the candy aisle. Here you can find the label “bagged chocolate” and see an assortment of chocolate from big, well-known companies like Hershey, Reese’s, etc. They all have seemingly endless variations of dark, milk, and white chocolate, sometimes mixed with peanut butter, nuts, or other embellishments. As you walk into the aisle, the sheer amount of options is overwhelming. The range of your selection makes them all seem to blend together. It is even hard to read each label individually because your eye is constantly being drawn elsewhere by cartoon images and bright colors. Eventually, you just go with what you know. This is either a run-of-the-mill choice like plain milk chocolate or something slightly more niche like salted caramel dark chocolate. In the case of a more niche preference, you will likely already know its position in the aisle because it does not change. Never at eye-level, your bag of salted caramel dark chocolate is eternally juxtaposed to the bag of mint milk chocolate, both sold by the same company. At any given CVS, they will sometimes be on a high level but more often than not, they will be off to the side. This particular bag of chocolate will reside at shin-level so you have to bend down to pick it up. It never goes on sale. But your friend has a slightly different experience. You see, she is a big fan of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, no almonds or other extras. She needs two bags because finals are coming up and she stress eats when she feels bloated. She turns into the candy aisle, finds the sign indicating the chocolate, and walks right up to inspect her choices. She does not have to look for long. As she glances to the side, her eyes find the Hershey’s label and her brain immediately recognizes the color. She grabs two bags since there is a sale that applies to this type of chocolate (second bag is 50% off!) and you both head to the front of the store to pay.

Photo taken by me.

Now let’s say that you and your friend prefer the finer things in life. Pretend that there has been a tragic epidemic and every chocolatier in your immediate vicinity has been destroyed. This leaves CVS as your only option for buying chocolate. The two of you cannot eat “commoners chocolate,” whatever that means (you and your friend are chocolate-snobs) so you head to the “Premium Chocolates” stand that CVS has on display. There is a notable absence of plastic bags and cartoon labels, no bright colors that remind you of late Halloween nights. The characteristics of this section that stand out to you are the highbrow-looking packaging, lack of “Big Chocolate” name brands (or so you think), and the fact that the vast majority of the packaging features some sort of picture of smooth chocolate.

Photo taken by me.

Because you and your friend prefer everyone to know the percentage of cocoa that your chocolate is, you grab a package from eye-level that advertises “85% Cocoa” in big, bold letters beneath the word “Excellence” written in a super fancy script font. This chocolate is slightly pricier than the chocolate in other areas of CVS so you and your friend agree to split the bag. Then you both head to the counter to pay.

In both situations, you have to pass the “impulse buy” test. As you wait in line to pay, you are surrounded by shelves of mini-sized candy. It is a slue of small packaging, with candy, gum, donuts, and chocolate all mixed together. The gum is at the top because it is the easiest to justify in a situation where you need to freshen up your breath. Directly below the gum are four entire shelves of candy, mostly chocolate. This is a departure from the fancy marketing you saw earlier. It is a return to the “Big Chocolate” name brands like Hershey. In contrast to the chocolate aisle, this chocolate is being sold in much smaller quantities. Its small size and location in the store point to a popular marketing ploy that stores like to use, especially in America. In America, we are very susceptible to the “impulse buy.” It is very easy to justify buying a small chocolate candy bar on your way out of CVS than buying a whole bag. Even further, these candies are not at adult-eye level but they are positioned perfectly to draw the attention of any child who walks past them. You, however, are not a child. You wait your turn and pay for your chocolate at the cash register. Then you leave CVS, concluding your shopping experience.

Photo taken by me.

These elaborate scenarios showcase various ways that chocolate plays a part in our everyday lives. For instance, the way that companies choose to visually represent their chocolate speaks to how we perceive chocolate. The “Premium Chocolates” section is a perfect example of this. In “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics”, Mary Norton discusses how sociologists and cultural historians “have eschewed biological or economic determinism and instead theorize taste as socially constructed” (Norton, 663). She uses Mintz’ work on sugar’s development “from a medicinal additive to a luxury good among the upper classes” to complement his argument that “sugar ‘embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.’ He points to ‘sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.’” (Norton/Mintz). This seems antiquated to us in modern day but it really holds true to society’s perception of chocolate. If you take into account the countless ads like this one that present chocolate as a luxury item that should be desired, then it becomes easier to see why presenting their product as “Premium Chocolates” is an effective marketing tactic used by Lindt and Ghirardelli in CVS.

Looking at this commercial, the first thing to notice is the incredible CGI they have used to recreate Audrey Hepburn, an icon of class and elegance. There is classic music playing in the background. Audrey Hepburn leaves the public transport bus and makes the transition into a handsome man’s car where he proceeds to act as her chauffeur as she eats chocolate in the backseat. This is a very clear way of associating chocolate with a certain lavish lifestyle that mirrors the purpose of the upscale display at CVS. This demonstrates how chocolate is still thought of as a luxury good despite its frequency.

Similarly, you can discern the intended audience from the location and price of the chocolate. In the chocolate aisle and the section right before the cash register, the position of the chocolate can reveal many things. If it is at eye-level for an adult, odds are that product is very popular. An example of this is the Hershey’s chocolate staple: plain dark chocolate. If the product is more particular, it is likely that it will be on a different shelf in order to make room for the standard products. One exception to this rule is when products are placed at the eye-level of children. Today, ads everywhere target kids because they want to create costumers for life. This has various ethical complications, not the least of which are explored in the article “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies” by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens. Their article describes the way sugar’s detrimental effects on public health were covered up by greedy corporations. Along the way, scientific research has found that “sugar and its nearly chemically identical cousin, HFCS, may very well cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, and that these chronic conditions would be far less prevalent if we significantly dialed back our consumption of added sugars” (Taubes). The ethical complications arise when the companies knowlingly advertised their product that contained unhealthy ingredients without making the public fully aware of their effects. There is also research that links the overconsumption of sucrose and HFCS to obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which disproportionately affect young people. Ad campaigns like this one from Cadbury target young people in an effort to foster a relationship between the child and the brand so that as an adult, their potential purchasing power increases because of their trained loyalty to the specific company.

The ad works likes a commercial to kids for kids. The use of children and upbeat music to advertise chocolate is a convincing strategy to associate chocolate with fun. This targeting of children as consumers is demonstrated in stores like CVS where chocolate is placed in the perfect position for children to recognize them from ads on television and the internet.

Chocolate might seem like a normal treat that you indulge in after a difficult day, but if you look deeper into your own perception of chocolate, you will learn that it is integral to multiple societal structures. Not only can you see from the different placements of chocolate in CVS that it is associated with elitism and opulence, but it is also incredibly gendered. This post on reddit.com by user Te1221 establishes the subconscious connection between chocolate and women.

Reddit, posted by user Te1221 in 2014.

The caption is “CVS boosted chocolate sales this year” which implies that its location next to female hygienic products would help it sell more. The suggestion that women on their period are more likely to buy chocolate is widely spread idea. This is just a small example of how chocolate can really represent institutions within our society like gender (like power through its elitism).

Just from looking at chocolate placement in a CVS in Harvard Square, you can begin to understand its intrinsic nature. Chocolate is a symbol of delicacy, power, femininity, and sinfulness (both in relation to physical health and sexually). All you need to do is look.

Works Cited

Norton, Marcy. 2006. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111 (3): 660-691

Mintz, Sidney W. “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History” (New York, 1985), 140, 139, 153, 166–167.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, Feb. 15, 2017.

Taubes, Gary, and Cristin Kearns Couzens. “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies.” Mother Jones. Nov/Dec. 2012. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign&gt;.

Containing Chocolate and Culture

The instruments used to hold chocolate reveal more about the history and culture of the time period than one might first assume. Chocolate consumption began with the Olmecs, a civilization who lived along the Gulf Coast of Mexico between 1500 BC and 400 BC (Presilla, 46). Around 500 AD, the Mayan people also embraced chocolate as a drink and as part of traditional rituals like marriage, funerals, and religious ceremonies. Over 1000 years later, chocolate had made its way to Europe as a luxury enjoyed by the elite members of society (Coe and Coe, 158). The transformation of chocolate from a religious food to an indulgence for the wealthy is reflected through the vessels used to contain cacao. The culture and beliefs surrounding chocolate are reflected by a vessel found in a Mayan tomb discovery and the French silver chocolatière.



In 1984, archeologists uncovered a Mayan tomb from the late 5th century containing 14 decorated vessels. This tomb was found at Rio Azul, a Maya city located in Guatemala (Presilla, 46). Specifically, one artifact found in this tomb helped researchers to discover Cacao’s importance in Mayan funeral traditions. In their book, Michael D. Coe and Sophie D. Coe describe the artifact:


“There was a single example of an extremely rare form, a stirrup-handled pot with a screw-on lid. This strange object had been surfaced with stucco and brilliantly painted with six large hieroglyphs, including two which read ‘cacao.’” (Coe and Coe, 46)

Kakaw_(Mayan_word).pngFigure 1:  A close up of the glyph that helped identify this vessel. This symbol meant “cacao” in the Classic Maya period. 

Figure 2 (on left): The pot found at Rio Azul that Coe describes.


For the Mayans, chocolate was more than just a substance to consume. Chocolate held spiritual power. This connection between religion and chocolate is clear when we take into consideration the location of this pot. This artifact was found in a tomb, surrounding the body of the deceased ruler. When tested in a lab, this screw-top jar had traces of caffeine and theobromine—the two trace compounds found together only in chocolate (Martin.) This discovery confirmed that the ruler was buried with chocolate. For further proof that the vessel contained chocolate, researcher David Stuart decoded the glyphs along the outside to read “a drinking vessel for witik cacao, for kox caco” (Coe and Coe, 46).

Funerals and chocolate were also linked in Mayan scripture.  The Mayans believed that chocolate eased the journey to the underworld. Chocolate is mentioned in conjunction with different religious rituals in the Dresden Codex, a Maya text that still exists today (Martin).

Not only does the Rio Azul discovery reveal the connection between religion and chocolate, it also clues us into the consumption process. Some of the other vases are tall and narrow. They were picked up and poured into other pots to increase the foam.
Figure 3: This image is found on the Princeton Vase, and it depicts the process in which people made the chocolate drink. The chocolate was poured from one jug to the other to add froth, as the foam was considered the most important part. 



Luxury in the 18th century France

In France in the 17th and 18th centuries, the vessels used to contain chocolate also reflect the attitudes towards chocolate and the way it was imbibed. Chocolate was heralded as a beneficial delicacy with many health benefits. The French “are usually credited with the invention of the chocolatière, the chocolate pot ”(Coe and Coe, 156). Many of the elite took chocolate daily to cure a number of ailments (Coe and Coe, 156). The vessels from which hot chocolate was poured reflect the extravagance of the segment of society who embraced chocolate.


Figure 4 and 5: This chocolatière, currently on display in the Metropolitan museum of art, was made in the 1760s and  is typical for the time period.





“The French innovation seems to have been fix a straight wooden handle to the metal pot at right angles to the spout; this handle was usually unscrewed clockwise so that it would remain tight while pouring from the pot in a counter-clockwise motion. At the top was a hinged lid, with a central hole under the swiveling (or hinged) finial to take the handle of the moussoir (“froth maker”), as they called the molinillo.… Of course, this would have been in silver, as would the chocolatiers of all the nobility.” – Coe 


The extravagance of this pot highlights how only the wealthy had access to chocolate at the time. The average citizen would have never been able to afford such an intricate piece of silverware (Righthand). Chocolatières were also used as gifts between royalty. Coe cites the first appearance of a silver chocolatières in France as a gift from a Siamese mission. “It was not that the Thai had suddenly turned into chocolate drinkers (they never did so), but [the minister to the King of Siam] had obviously instructed the royal metalsmiths to turn out something that would appeal to the French court.” And the metalsmith’s idea of what would appeal to the French court was an extravagant set of chocolatières. The chocolatières given to the French court incuded “two chocolatières in silver, one with golden flowers and the other Japenned” as well as another “entirely in gold” (Coe and Coe, 158). Chocolatières were brought as a gift and to signify diplomacy. This incident establishes the way chocolate was viewed in society—something for only the elite to enjoy for pleasure.



Figure 6:  “La Famille du duc de Penthièvre en 1768” a painting by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier illustrates how chocolate was for the wealthy.


Same food, different cultures

For the Europeans of the 17th century, chocolate was a status symbol. As the price was still expensive, only the wealthy could afford to take chocolate. The intricacies of the chocolatières highlight their function in society. For the most part, chocolate no longer held any spiritual affiliation. While the Mayan pots were decorated with glyphs and drawings depicting what was inside and religious rituals, the chocolatières were ornately decorated illustrating the wealth and class of those who used them. Although both pots hold chocolate, their uses and sociological function were very different, illustrating the adaptation of chocolate as it spread to Europe as a secular delicacy, rather than a religious artifact.


Works cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Feb. 2017. Class Lecture.

Righthand, Jess. “A Brief History of the Chocolate Pot.” Smithsonian.com. February 13, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2017. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/brief-history-chocolate-pot-180954241/.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009 Print.







Luxury and Female Sexual Pleasure in “Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate”

A day spent in the western world is a day filled with advertisements. Their ubiquity makes the messages that they convey very important. In chocolate advertising, the images used to convey these messages often include women and evoke luxuriousness. While these characteristics are not concerning in themselves, they are often used in a problematic manner in advertising campaigns. An excellent example of this is an advertisement for Dove’s “Cranberry Almond Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate” in 2008. The advertisement contains elements that induce consumers to associate chocolate with high-class and female sexual pleasure, while an alternative advertisement purposefully avoids these problematic themes.

Dove’s “Cranberry Almond Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate”

The image used in the advertisement (shown below) depicts the face of a Caucasian woman with her eyes closed, nestled among folds of silk or satin. The image has soft lighting that creates various hues of brown and gold and casts shadows on the face of the woman and on the folds of the material. She has a faint smile that gives the impression of relaxing pleasure rather than deep sleep.


Image 1 from Dove advertising campaign

This type of pleasure is portrayed to be sexual in nature by the words below the image that include the phrase “now it can last longer than you can resist.” The wording is clearly alluding to the time it takes a woman to climax and implying that the chocolate is so good and it lasts in your mouth so long that it will cause this intense pleasure. The dim, soft lighting also contributes to the sexualization of the woman in the advertisement by portraying a romantic, beautiful, sensual image. Again, the pleasure indicated by the woman’s smile also appears to indicate recent sexual satisfaction. Indeed, this advertisement not only contains connotations of sexual pleasure, but portrays the chocolate itself as inducing a pleasure that is orgasmic. I am not aware of any cases of chocolate consumption that have resulted in orgasms for males or females, so portraying it as such reduces and simplifies a woman’s sexuality. These images and themes appear to be intentional as another advertisement in the Dove campaign series contains many similar elements (see below).

dove ad 2
Image 2 from Dove advertising campaign

This link between chocolate and sex was especially pushed in advertisements for luxury chocolates (Robertson 2009). This tactic remained popular for about the first three-fourths of the twentieth century, and appears to be being used here (Robertson 2009). The rich folds of material in the image imply luxury and high-class or status. In the early 1900s, advertisements from British chocolatiers displayed elegantly dressed blindfolded females choosing the “best” chocolate – conveying chocolate as something luxurious and tying in female sexuality (Robertson 2009). These types of advertisements encouraged “other consumers to aspire to the social distinction afforded by drinking and serving the best cocoa” (Robertson 2009: 26). This pushed the idea that spending money on chocolate was important to show wealth and sophistication – an idea that could be harmful to individuals who didn’t have as much disposable income as the wealthy. Thus, the advertisement is targeting women who want the intense pleasure supposedly derived from consuming chocolate, and the luxuriousness that is associated with it.


An Alternative Ad

A more honest, yet still effective, advertisement that does not stereotype women as seeking pleasure and luxury in their chocolate, is shown below.

Cat and Chocolate 1
A Harvard student eating chocolate after an unpleasant meal in the dining hall

A woman is featured in this advertisement, but she is not in a sexual position, displays no form of sexual yearning, and is not surrounded by images of high-class and luxury (although the “Harvard” text does imply great privilege). This advertisement aims to target the Harvard community by using humor and identifying a common sentiment, all the while creating a more complex image surrounding the female consumer.

She is staring thoughtfully at the chocolate and has on a Harvard sweatshirt and Harvard ring. These images give the impression of competence, intelligence, and agency. She is making an informed choice in eating the chocolate. The text and setting also differentiate this advertisement from the Dove one. She is not wrapped in fabric, but sitting in the dining hall, where consumption of food is common. She is choosing to consume the chocolate as a solution to the foul taste of the food of Harvard University Dining Services, rather than as a solution to her desire for sexual pleasure.

Just as one advertising campaign of Divine Chocolate sought to present the women behind the chocolate as more complex and professional than stereotypes of African cacao workers allow (Leissle 2012), this advertisement attempts to present the female consumer as choosing chocolate for reasons other than a stereotyped sexual satisfaction. Chocolate companies often choose to portray luxury and female sexual pleasure in their advertising campaigns, but they would do well to consider other themes that go beyond stereotype.


Works Cited

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-139.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.




Reframing the Golden Moment: Analyzing Sexual Tone in Godiva Chocolate Ads

Luxury chocolate has historically been sold and advertised to wealthy, white, female consumers. The class connotations of chocolate advertisements from companies like Cadbury, Ferrero Rocher and Godiva use luxurious settings and beautiful well-dressed white women in ecstasy to capitalize on the implications of wealth as well as the association of chocolate and female pleasure. This Godiva Ad, featuring said beautiful white woman and a “golden moment”, plays into the ubiquitous advertising tropes discussed above. By using an innuendo for orgasm and a sophisticated model, the ad suggests that the woman consuming Godiva luxury chocolate is something to aspire to not just because of the trappings of her class but also because of the pleasure she’s able to attain. In pushing back on this ad, I suggest that every woman’s “Golden Moment” is not a sexual climax but rather any good feeling. The hope of this original ad is to dispel the notion that chocolate is pleasurable because it is like sex for women; the pleasure of chocolate does not need to be sexualized because of the subject’s gender.

The ad in question is one of many that feature women, often as “Godiva Divas” indulging in chocolate and basking in the afterglow of having consumed Godiva products. 

Any close reading of an ad for Godiva Chocolate would be required to start at the very branding of the luxury chocolate. In its very name the company draws on historical associations with female sexuality through Lady Godiva, the nude noblewoman on horseback. The small, stylized logo in the bottom left-hand corner evokes the lady in question but most prominently features the company name “Godiva”. This subtle inclusion of branding in an ad that features a mostly clothed woman, albeit in bed, strengthens the tie between the chocolate and female sexuality that is essential to the ad’s messaging.

godiva outline
An enlarged version of the stylized logo shows in more detail and underlines the importance of the Lady Godiva legend in the branding of their chocolate – just the outline of a nude breast is the subtle connection between Godiva Chocolate and female sexuality that runs through all of their branding. 

The next important feature of this ad is the subject—the woman lying in bed. While the setting of the ad will be discussed later, the woman herself is an important piece of understanding the intent and result of the ad. This woman, much like the white women historically featured in Rowntree Ads (Robertson 28), represents aspirational upper-class whiteness, suggesting that to consume luxury goods like she does is a right reserved for the wealthy. The styling of her clothes, face and hair reinforce this notion as she is in a form fitting, sophisticated black dress with glamorous eye makeup. Her hair is styled to make it look effortless and slightly tousled but beautiful, reflecting the ease of her elegant lifestyle. These aspects of her styling also are sexually suggestive—the dress is cut to frame her breasts with a sweetheart neckline and the same effortless and tousled look is evocative of post-coital bed head. The pose in the bed and also against the pillow strengthens again the association between this ad and female sexuality, placing the subject of the ad in a pose and place evocative of sex.

The discussion of setting is brief only because the major setting of the ad is in a well-appointed bedroom. As discussed above, the fact that this woman is in bed is evocative, almost purely, of sex. Settings like this are not unique, with ads featuring bedrooms, bathrooms, and bathtubs are almost ubiquitous in the luxury chocolate marketing world. The sexual implications of these places are clear and they endow each ad with a sensuality that chocolate companies have long exploited to sell chocolate. The additional implications of this setting are class related. The major feature of the furniture in the bedroom is the beautiful tufted headboard in the background. While the recognition of the design value of a headboard as such has certain class implications, the mere fact of a headboard when many don’t have them at all puts the wealth of the subject on display, creating in addition to sexual implications, class implications for the consumption of Godiva chocolate.

new ad
The new ad pushes on the boundaries of class and race with a black family set without the trappings of wealth. The family aspect additionally pushes back on the sexualization of eating chocolate. 

In pushing back on this ad I hoped to do two things. First, I wanted to create “The Golden Moment” that had to do with pleasure or accomplishment that was not inherently or implicitly sexual. In creating this ad I wanted to find a “moment” accessible to women regardless of class. I chose to celebrate sharing chocolate with family in an ad whose “Golden Moment” is a smile between a grandmother and a granddaughter. The setting was also explicitly chosen to not reflect upper-class sensibilities as the focus. Much lik other campaigns that try to feature “unconventional models” for selling chocolate, the family here is American Black, giving Black Americans the opportunity to see themselves as the target consumer of the product (Leissle 135). Finally, instead of using the female silhouette logo created by Godiva, I opted instead for the logo used on Godiva products that includes only the name. This ad eliminates the use of female sexuality by positioning its subjects in a completely non-sexual situation and setting. This creates a new Golden Moment associated neither with sex nor with upper-class whiteness.


Works Cited

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in DivineChocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Elliott, Stuart. “Godiva Rides in a New Direction.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2009. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

Sugar becomes the Opiate of the Masses


Sugar was introduced into the British Empire as a luxury of the rich, over time and across many uses, it found its way into the homes of the average man and also became a staple in the everyday diet. How and why this change occurred is of great importance into understanding the shift in the consumption of sugar. Sugar was introduced as a spice and medicine into the British household, but came to included three other uses: as a decoration, sweetener and preservative. As sugar moved down the list of its uses, it also had social and economic impacts. The progression of sugar usage effected consumption in the British society and caused the shift from sugar as a luxurious good to an opiate of the masses.

In the early decades of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Britain established Caribbean plantations for the sole purpose of growing sugar cane. Britain’s first attempt at doing this occurred upon the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 which was the first English colony in the New World (Mintz 36). Sugar cane was brought in 1619 as were the first African slaves to reach the English colony (Mintz 36). Unfortunately, the sugar cane would not grow. The British Empire was hard pressed to see this mission successful as there was a high demand for sugar at home.

Slaves working in a sugar cane plantation in British-West Indies
A Sugar Cane Plantation in the West Indies

The settlement of Barbados in 1627 proved to be the turning point in British attempts as production with the successful production of “clayed sugars” and “muscovado”. (Mintz 37). “The first British sugar islands was Barbados followed by St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua and Jamaica. Grenada and Trinidad were added to the bunch in the late 19th century” (clements.umich.edu). Sugar supply for Britain now came directly from her settlements in the West Indies and added drastically to the consumption of sugar at home as it was now more accessible. “As supply for sugar increased, England’s demands for sugar kept pace. So much so that productions on the islands were barely able to keep up” (Mintz 39). Britain was importing huge amounts of sugar and the condiment in question came to define the “English Character” (Mintz 39).

Sugar Mill, Standard Mill in the West Indies
Sugar Mill


The sugar trade was successful because it was a highly priced commodity regardless of the volatility of the sugar market, the demands for it rose as consumption did (clements.umich.edu).  Sugar production increased as a direct correlation of its consumption. As availability of sugar rose in Britain, so did the many uses of sugar. The British households found new ways to incorporate sugar into their social lives.

British sugar consumption chart
British Sugar Consumption Chart

Mintz mentions five uses of sugar: 1) as medicine, 2) spice-condiment, 3) decorative material, 4) as a sweetener, 5) as a preservative. The use of sugar in these many forms although coming into usage progressively, also happened interchangeably. Sugar was first introduced into the British household as a Spice and Medicine, in this form, it remained a luxurious good only available to the rich. “The first written mention of sugar was in the pipe scrolls, the official records of royal income and expenditures in 1154-89(Mintz 82).  The quantities of sugar at this time were relatively small and since this was an account of the expenditures of the rich, meant that only this class of people could afford to consume sugar. “By the thirteenth century, sugar was still being sold by the loaf and by the pound and although still quite pricey and only accessible to the rich, it was now available even in the remotest areas” (Mintz 82). The shift from a luxury to a commodity available to all would happen in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and with the introduction of other uses of sugar.


In the seventeenth century, the use of sugar as a spice declined and this time period, “saw the prices, supplies and customary uses of sugar change rapidly” (Mintz 86). Sugar featured as a decorative item after this time and was not only available to the noble and rich but now made its way downward to the middle class. As sugar progressed in the list of uses, so did the decline in its exclusiveness and the more prolific it became, the more it was consumed by all. Sugar consumption also had economic ramification as well, “the decline in sugar importance went hand in hand with its increase in economic and dietary importance” (Mintz 95). As sugar became more plentiful, it now became available to the poor.

Sugar became available to the poor in the form of a sweetener and preservative; this accessibility would be responsible for the upward swing of the consumption of sugar. The rise of chocolate, tea and coffee into the British household massively contributed to the large amount of sugar consumption. The use of sugar as a sweetener in tea propelled the “Sugar Equalization Act” which removed the import tariff and lowered the price of sugar of which the direct result was the proliferation of sugar everywhere (clements.umich.edu). The poor used sugar not only as a sweetener but also to supplement their diets as well.

As sugar become more widely used in many forms, it made its way into the household of all citizens regardless of class, this was directly responsible in the shift of sugar consumption in the British society. Sugar in the form of a sweetener and preservative became an everyday commodity, which meant that consumption would greatly rise as it permeated every single dish that was eaten by the British citizens. This standard has come to hold true across the world as sugar features in every single dietary item we consume. However, there is a marked difference in the reception of this commodity, at some point highly revered, sugar is now a social pariah, an evil that has been thrust upon society and should be eradicated.



Scholarly Sources:

Clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. Document. 21 March 2016.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985. 274. Print.

Multimedia Sources:

brave.info, land of the. Sugar Act. n.d. image. 21 March 2016.

clements.umich.edu. Sugar In The Atlantic World. 1923. image. 21 March 2016.

czarnikow.com. The Inconvenient Truth about Sugar Consumption. 1 May 2014. image. 21 March 2016.





















The Sweet Road to Abolition: On the Shift in Sugar Consumption and Its Effects on Slavery

From the encomienda system, to repartimiento, to chattel slavery, the history of sweetness and of chocolate are, unfortunately, inextricably linked to the history of slavery. The need to produce larger amounts of sugar to use for one of its many purposes—medicinal, as sweetener, preservation, decorative, as a spice—and to do it more quickly, led different sugar producers to engage in activities that were deemed less than desirable and ideal. Slavery was considered to be a stain in the clear finesse of sugar and its consumption, to the point where people masked it, ignored it, and denied it, in order to not feel the emotionally taxing consequences that thinking about the morality of the issue would bring them, which would perhaps detract from their sugar consumption experience. Here I argue that as sugar changed from being a luxury to being considered a necessity in European day to day, the existence of slavery started to decrease.

Chocolate pot on a lamp stand, French, 1729, silver gilt. Like sugar, chocolate was a symbol of high social status before becoming a mainstream commodity.

Contextually, slavery was not uncommon in the sixteenth century. Over ten million people were taken from Africa to some destination in the Americas to partake in slave labour, including women and children (Higgs). Of these people, about 60% of those who survived the brutal journey across the Atlantic were taken somewhere in the Caribbean, 30% of them were taken to Brazil, and 10% ended up in lands that are now considered part of the United States. As the demand for sugar rose, different slave-owning systems were developed and put in place in order to obtain as much economic benefit from slavery as possible (Mintz). However, there were always people who were against slavery and demanded its abolition. These people asked for something that firstly required the recognition of slavery, which was against European customs, since these dictated that slavery was to be hidden from the public eye.

Permanent Galleries - Humanitarian Impulse
Cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank depicting the ‘The gradual abolition of the slave trade: or leaving of sugar by degrees’, 1792.

The timeline for the reason behind the consumption of sugar in Europe indicates that sugar went from being considered an item of luxury and high social standing around 1750, to becoming a communal necessity for the quotidian European in 1850. In this period of a hundred years, the way in which sugar was consumed changed, and therefore, so did the methods of production utilized to craft sugary products. Although slavery had been the norm for a period of time in matters of production techniques, and although abolitionists had long asked for the removal of such practices, it didn’t happen overnight. Instead, abolition came gradually into being. In 1834, the British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery in colonies of the British empires, followed by French and Danish colonies in 1848 (Satre). The United States and Cuba followed, and then Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. Over a period of years, slavery became less and less common, but due to difficulties in communicating the news immediately, sometimes it took weeks or months for slaveowners and slaves themselves to find out about the changes that were occurring.

Old depiction of French slaves in Haiti, one of the largest colonies in the Americas.

It is possible to see that the abolition of slavery and the change in sugar consumption happened in parallel, but they did not happen in isolation. In fact, there is a strong relation between them. European social norms made the general population ignore slavery, and the fact that sugar consumption was restricted to an elite that considered it a luxury only added to this hidden factor, which meant that abolitionist tendencies were next to inexistent. However, as sugar became more widely spread amidst the European population and went from a luxurious item to a necessity, the realities behind the production of this prized good became well-known among citizens of European metropolises. Upon realizing the morbid steps that took place in order to produce sugar, more pressure to abolish slavery in the colonies ensued, which in turn provoked the establishment of Abolition Acts throughout colonies, and therefore had positive consequences for those being exploited in them. The presence of similar timelines for the abolition of slavery and the switch in sugar consumption indicates a shift in thought that related both sides of the same argument: since maintaining the image of sugar as pure as possible was no longer feasible due to its wide spread, new ways of thinking overruled previous ones, and the request to free slave workers, as well as their demand for freedom, intensified to the point where they became a reality and slavery started decreasing.

Sugar still has sculptural uses nowadays, such as the one depicted in this video, where a street sculptor creates a dragon out of sugar derivatives.

Works Cited

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133-165

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-32, 73-99